(updated December 30, 2017)
The Percorso delle Cinque Stelle (Road of the Five Stars) includes the five most enchanting Christmas markets in South Tyrol, combining Germanic tradition with Italian style: Vipiteno (Sterzing), Bressanone (Brixen), Brunico (Bruneck), Bolzano (Bozen) and Merano (Meran).
South Tyrol is the term most commonly used in English for the province of Alto Adige, officially the Provincia autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige (in Italian). Together with the province of Trento and the Austrian State of Tyrol, it formed what was historically known as the Tirolo region, now referred to as Tirolo storico.
1. Vipiteno (Sterzing)
Arriving in South Tyrol via the Brenner Pass the first town of the Percorso delle Cinque Stelle is Vipiteno, known as Sterzing in German. Vipiteno is a colorful medieval town with a magical atmosphere around Christmas. The small town revolves around one street, divided in its center by the 15th century tower Torre dei Dodici, with the picturesque Città Nuova street lying to the south and the Città Vecchia to the north. The town prospered between the 15th and 16th centuries when silver and lead were mined in the nearby villages. Its mining heritage is reflected in the many stones, crystals an minerals found in and around the Christmas market.
2. Bressanone (Brixen, Porsenù)
The next town on the Road of the Five Stars, located at the confluence of the Isarco (Eisack) and Rienza (Rienz) rivers, is Bressanone (Brixen). This lovely town, with its brightly colored houses, is also the oldest of South Tyrol with a more than 1,000 year old history. One of the most beautiful streets in Bressanone is Via dei Portici Maggiore, in the old center. Lined with shops and houses from the sixteenth and seventh century, with bow windows and crenellated balconies, the street has preserved its medieval atmosphere and charm.
3. Brunico (Bruneck)
A good thirty minutes’ drive through the Val Pusteria (Pustertal valley) leads you to Brunico (Bruneck). Here you will find Christmas stalls selling traditional garments made of Loden, a greenish-blue colored, thick, water resistant fabric with a short pile made of the oily wool of mountain sheep.
4. Bolzano (Bozen)
At the end of the Isarco (Eisack) river valley lies Bolzano, a charming town with a unique flavor, often cited as one of the best cities of Italy in terms of quality of life.
At the center of the old town is the Walther square, with a statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, the most celebrated of the Middle High German lyric poets. Worth a visit is also the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, especially created to house the mummy of Ötzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest natural human mummy. Read more about Bolzano.
5. Merano (Meran, Maran)
Going further westwards down the Etsch river you reach Merano, where you can relax in one of the spa resorts during the day and enjoy the festive lights along the Passer river by night. The mild climate of the town was particularly appreciated by literary people, and artists in the past, including Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound, who had their residence there.
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Photo credits (top to bottom): Featured image Merano Christmas market by RossoGialloBianco; Organ grinder by Yellow.Cat; Vipiteno by Darvina06; Bressanone by Roberto1956; Bressanone Christmas market by Darvina06; Brunico by Silviabes and Peco; Bolzano by Marionzetta; Bolzano by Giorgio Cardellini; Kurverwaltung Meran; Matteo Paciotti